If there's one thing we learned from John Carpenter's The Thing, it's that few settings breed paranoia and desperation like a closed off compound surrounded by snow and ice. Efforts to replicate Carpenter's frozen thriller have ranged from great (The X-Files episode "Ice") to disappointing (2011's remake of The Thing). Unfortunately, SyFy's drab thriller Helix falls squarely into the latter category.
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Dr. Alan Farragut (Billy Campbell) and his highly trained team of CDC specialists is dispatched to an Arctic Biosystems research compound that's in, you guessed it, the Arctic. The site has suffered a deadly outbreak that's infected those working in a particular lab and left all but one of them dead. The survivor is Dr. Peter Farragut (Neil Napier), Alan's brother, who he hasn't seen since he caught him in bed with his now ex-wife, Dr. Julia Walker (Krya Zagorsky). Walker has also joined Alan's epidemiology team. Add to that mix the bright-eyed, young Dr. Sarah Jordan (Jordan Hayes), who's been crushing on Alan, and you've got enough drama to make an angst-filled teenager blush.
But aside from who slept with whom, there's also this pesky virus that turns most of its victims into oozing piles of black sludge. In the case of Peter, though, he is not only still alive but his strength has increased and he appears have a strong motivation to infect others by spewing black sludge into their mouths. As the CDC team attempts to investigate the origin of the mysterious virus, they have difficulty getting accurate information from Arctic Biosystems employee Dr. Hiroshi Hatake (Hiroyuki Sandada), and the military representative sent to the base with the doctors, Major Sergio Balleseros (Mark Ghanime), suspects that the outbreak may not have been an accident.
On the surface, Helix has all the makings of an intense, nail-biting thriller, with each episode representing a single day of in-universe time, but the execution of these ideas totally face-plants. Aside from the piled-on soap opera elements of the main characters' interpersonal relationships, the ensemble is little more than a bunch of cardboard cutouts going through the motions. It's impossible to care about whether these people live or die because they barely register as humans to begin with. Catherine Lemieux's Dr. Doreen Boyle shows the most life, but she's also the cast member voted most likely to have an infected creature leap onto her out of nowhere, perhaps the price of being the only woman not enamored with the dull-as-toast Dr. Alan Farragut.
Moments that should be tension-filled are squandered by being drawn out or by a lack of investment in the characters. Details about the broader conspiracy involving Arctic Biosystems' research come too slowly and Hatake spends entirely too much time staring stone-faced at the horrors around to come off as anything other than the world's most boring black-hat bad guy. A development involving the creation of a test to determine who on the base has been infected with the virus plays out so similarly to a plot in executive producer Ronald D. Moore's Battlestar Galactica, that it's impossible not to notice it was done far better the first time.
Perhaps Helix's band of doctors are just too good at their jobs, too good at keeping their cool under pressure, because watching them suffer through this series of catastrophic events is surprisingly tedious.